US should act to protect children in conflict

Geneva, Feb 6 (IANS) The US should promptly carry out the recommendations of a UN panel of experts to improve protection of children abroad from armed conflict, Human Rights Watch has said.

The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child released a report and recommendations to the US government Tuesday.

The committee raised a number of concerns regarding US practices during armed conflict that were harmful to children, Human Rights Watch said.

The committee said it was "alarmed" at reports of the deaths of hundreds of children from US attacks and air strikes in Afghanistan since the committee last reviewed US practices in 2008.

It also expressed "deep concern" at the arrest and detention of children in Afghanistan, laws that exclude former child soldiers from securing asylum in the US, and presidential waivers to US laws that have allowed governments using child soldiers to receive US military assistance.

"The US can and should do more to protect children affected by armed conflict," said Jo Becker, children's rights advocacy director at Human Rights Watch.

"The US should take decisive action on the child rights committee's common-sense recommendations."

On Jan 16, the 18-member, Geneva-based committee conducted a formal review of US compliance with an international treaty, the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict.

The protocol was ratified by the US in 2002. It bars governments from forcibly recruiting children under 18 and from using them in direct hostilities.

It also requires countries to take steps to prevent the use of child soldiers and to rehabilitate and assist children who have been involved in armed conflict.

The committee's report and recommendations regarding US compliance with the protocol were adopted Jan 28.

The urged the US to take precautionary measures to prevent killing and maiming civilians, including children, and bring to justice members of the US armed forces responsible for violations against children.

The US was also asked to detain children associated with armed groups only as a measure of last resort, and provide all children under 18 with special care and education.

The US should also ensure they are not transferred to another government's custody if there is a risk of torture or ill-treatment.

US forces have detained hundreds of children in Afghanistan, holding many of them for over a year with inadequate access to legal assistance, education, or rehabilitation services.

Children under 18 have been detained with adults, contrary to international standards.

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